A plasma jet can spread numerous hundred thousand light-years far into space. When this tremendous radiation is produced, the black hole remains concealed because the light rays close to it are strongly bent, leading to the appearance of a shadow. This was not long ago reported by researchers of the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) project for the massive black hole located in the gigantic ellipse galaxy M87.
In quasar 3C279, which is also a black hole, the EHT team discovered another phenomenon. At a distance of more than a thousand times the shadow of the black hole, the nucleus of a plasma jet dramatically lit up. How exactly the energy for this jet was able to get there as if through an invisible channel was not yet known.
Flashing Gamma Radiation Spotted
This particular quasar has now been analyzed with the NASA space telescope Fermi-LAT by the astrophysicist Amit Shukla, who, until 2018, carried out research at Julius-Maximilians-Universität (JMU) Würzburg in Bavaria, Germany, but is now working at the Indian Institute of Technology in Indore.
Shukla found that the middle of the jet, which was discovered in the millimeter wavelength range, also generates high-energy gamma radiation, but with an incredibly flickering brightness. This brightness can grow double in only a few minutes, as reported in the journal Nature Communications.
The unique pattern of the sequence of brightness changes the features of a universal process known as magnetic reconnection, which takes place in numerous astrophysical objects with powerful magnetic fields.
Solar activity also has a role in the dynamics of magnetic fields and reconnection – something that has been recently demonstrated by analyzing ‘campfires’ in the solar atmosphere with the Solar Orbiter mission of the European Space Agency (ESA).
Invisibly-Stored Energy is Dramatically Released
When describing the finding of the quasar 3C279, Amit Shukla said: “I saw how the analysis of the data revealed the special pattern of magnetic reconnection in the light curve. It felt as if I had suddenly deciphered a hieroglyph in the black hole alphabet.”
During reconnection, the energy that is originally stored invisibly in the magnetic field is suddenly released in numerous ‘mini-jets.’ In these jets, particles are accelerated, which then generates the seen gamma radiation. Magnetic reconnection would justify how the energy gets to the jet’s core from the black hole and where it eventually comes from.
Professor Karl Mannheim, head of the JMU Chair of Astronomy and co-author of the publication, explained: “Spacetime near the black hole in the quasar 3C279 is forced to swirl around in corotation. Magnetic fields anchored to the plasma around the black hole expel the jet slowing down the black hole’s rotation and converting part of its rotational energy into radiation.”